Bullfighting tradition in Portugal: when will it end?

Bullfighting: it may just sound like a Spanish tradition. But in many other countries including France, Mexico and Portugal, this tradition is also a big part of the culture. The practice has come under fire over the past few decades. In 2022, is it still okay to harm and kill an animal for entertainment?

The Portuguese tradition of bullfighting is a bit different from the Spanish version. In Portugal, the bull is not killed in the arena. This is why some see this version of the tradition as the less violent form of the tradition. The bull gets killed outside of the arena, when the audience is gone and unable to witness it. This happens three hours after the fight took place.

In Lisbon, Portugal’s capitol, bullfights don’t take place all year round. The arena opens up on Easter and closes again in October. According to Campo Pequeno, an arena where bullfights take place, the tradition has changed over time. “There was an evolution and a change in the type of bullfighting,” explains Joana Pina, head of marketing and communications at the arena.

Killing the bull at the end of the show for example, does not happen in this arena anymore. “There is only one small town in Portugal where the bulls can die in the arena named Barrancos. In the rest of the country, this does not happen.”

The public opinion on the fighting has played a big role in the changes that have occurred. And to this day, protests still take place while the events are happening. “There are some protests, but they don’t have that many protesters. That is, when the arena has about 7000 people watching a bullfight, there are about 50 people protesting outside.”

These protests don’t bother Pina personally. “But it’s a question of respect. If you enjoy the event, you have to be able to enjoy the show, because it’s in the constitution. I may not like metal, but I shouldn’t go and speak out against people who do like that kind of music if it’s legal to perform it.”

Pina also does not fear that bullfights will someday become illegal. But if it does happen, the arena will miss out on a lot of revenue. “It’s not our only business. We are a showhouse, we host all types of concerts and sports events. But if it happens, it will be because we have not been able to adapt to new policies, as we have been able to do so far. And we will miss a complete show from an artistic point of view, which brings together music, performance, colours, novelty and bravery.”

The way Pina looks at the tradition is very different from the opinions of those who are against it. Political party PAN (People-Animals-Nature) is a party that fights for more animal rights and animal welfare. Bullfighting is one of the topics that they cover in their political campaign for the upcoming elections in February. For example, the party fought for making bullfights non-accessible for anyone under the age of 16. “We wanted to make sure kids are protected from seeing this type of violence and also to not normalise this tradition for them,” Mónica Fonseca, PR-manager at PAN, explains.

The party hopes that the younger generations will be the ones to finally bring an end to the tradition. “We see that older people, who grew up with this tradition, are holding onto it very tightly, just because of it being a tradition. So we hope that new generations will be able to see the fighting for what it actually is, and speak out against it.”

Fonseca knows from personal experience how controversial this topic is for some people. “Some family members don’t talk to me anymore because of my stance on the fighting. They think changing it would make our country lose our culture. Also in politics it’s almost impossible to get this discussion going, because politicians know how much backlash it would ensue.”

But Fonseca is hopeful about the future. “I am sure generation Z and generations after that will use their voices. We know how powerful they can be and how much they care about our planet and animals. Take veganism for example, a few years ago, vegan food was unheard of. But now that Gen Z has started to change the way they eat, the vegan restaurants are popping up everywhere. So I truly believe that change will be inevitable. We will just need to be patient, and carry on with our fight.”